Tag Archives: Traverse City

UP NORTH: Just Beautiful…

13 Jun

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Today we’re in Wine Country driving next to sandy shorelines on roads that slope, meander and snake past vineyards, orchards and turquoise blue water. To get here we didn’t need plane tickets or passports we just pointed the car northwest and drove until we arrived in Traverse City. We cut into a neighborhood that follows the coast line, as soon as we turn onto East Bay Blvd our vacation officially begins; stunning blue water on the right, magnificent homes on the left, I could spend the whole day looking at this view. We continue on East Shore road and are treated the same spectacular scenery. It’s late May and it seems we have Old Mission Peninsula all to ourselves, only one thing to do now, let’s go visit some wineries.

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We make a left on McKinley Rd, Black Star Farms will be our first stop. Vineyards and orchards surround the tasting room and state-of-the-art wine-making and distilling facility. The quaint building of red with white trim overlooks east bay. Inside a round bar constructed of wine barrels takes center stage; here we taste wines, ciders and spirits. I like everything we try but one stands out from the rest, Sirius Maple, an apple wine with maple syrup, it’s really nice, wrap one up please. I walk around the tasting room looking at bottles stored vertically and horizontally, cork screws, stoppers, gift bags and wine glasses, each bearing the Black Star logo. At the register bottles of wine wear ribbons and medals as Michigan wines continue to earn accolades.

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Further up Center Rd an Italian-looking villa sits high on a bluff, this is Mari Vineyards. Owner Marty Lagina chose to grow exotic varieties of grapes that don’t normally grow in Michigan; Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, along with classics like Cabernet-Franc and Merlot. The planting of thousands of vines took place in 1999, it was quite an undertaking, at one point vines were grabbed haphazardly from their soaking tanks and planted, the problem was nobody knew exactly which varieties they planted so the first 7 rows are a random assortment of grapes. 2006 was the first year for the official production of Mari’s flagship wine named Row 7. We step inside the building, wood and stone make up the majority of the decor, Medieval-style chandeliers hang from antique-looking beams. A small group is at the tasting bar, I sidle up alongside them and study the menu. Kris and I share the tastes, this way we can try more without slurring our speech. Kris heads out to the patio, I join him after paying for our bottle. It’s a postcard view; west bay, hillsides, vineyards and wildflowers. Visitors relax in chairs, feet up on ottomans sipping rose’, not a bad way to spend the day.

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Hawthorne Vineyards is one of the most secluded wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, the tasting room is surrounded by woods and vineyards with a picturesque view of west bay. The owners purchased this 80 acre farm filled with grapevines, cherry and plum trees; they planted additional vinifera on 26 acres. This boutique vineyard features small production wines from their estate fruit. The private driveway weaves its way to the stone and blue-sided tasting room. Inside the quaint space pale green walls meet up with a white ceiling, large windows reveal rolling hills and barns. We try wines made from Lemberger, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Cab Franc grapes and fruits. The Cherry Splendor was our favorite, made from Balaton and Montmorency cherries it is the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

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After all that tasting I’m thinking it’s time to eat. We cut over to Peninsula Drive and enjoy the drive along west bay until we reach the old Bower’s Harbor Inn and Jolly Pumpkin. Just inside the entrance a variety of Jolly Pumpkin swag is for sale, I like the t-shirts. We are routed to a table on the far side of the dining room passing a multitude of beer mugs hanging from the ceiling, glass grapes and an eclectic mix of light fixtures. We get right down to business and order some lunch, fortunately the place is kind of quiet this late in the afternoon so our food comes out quickly. The Rocket Arugula Salad is a tasty mix of arugula, apples, spiced walnuts, mango ginger Stilton cheese, fried parsnips, tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The BBQ Chicken Pizza features grilled chicken breast, red onion, pickled jalapeno, mozzarella and white cheddar sitting atop a bbq sauce covered crust,  outstanding, all of it. 

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The front property at Bower’s Harbor Inn is Mission Table restaurant and tasting room. The upscale farm to table restaurant serves up local ingredients inside and on a gorgeous waterfront deck; we’re here for a tasting. Inside we make a sharp left to the tasting bar, taking our seats we are given a choice of tasting beer, cider or spirits, you can even mix it up, which we did. A couple of beers, a cider and some bourbon lead to a conversation about the Inn, turns out the place was built in the 1880’s. The building was remodeled in the 1920’s when lumber baron JW Stickney and his wife Genevive bought it. There’s an eerie story attached to the estate. Genevive had health issues so an elevator was installed in the house. At one point Mr Stickney hired a nurse to help care for his wife, the nurse became his mistress. Stickney died of a stroke, leaving the house to his wife but all of his money to the nurse. Genevive became depressed and hung herself from the rafters in the elevator shaft. They say she still haunts this place to this day; lights turn off and on, same with the faucets, mirrors and paintings fall off the walls…Boo! We’re able to have a look around upstairs and downstairs; lots of dark wood, leaded glass and pretty fireplaces.

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We continue our scenic drive north to the end of the peninsula coming back Swaney Rd. We stop at Haserot beach and marvel at the clarity of the water, tourist season hasn’t begun yet so the place is ours. Back to the car, we go south on Smokey Hollow Rd following the water to Bluff Rd; just us on a 2-lane road feeling like we’re in a dream. Vineyards, farms, hops, fruit trees; boats tied up to docks beckoning to go out into the big lake. Low clouds hover on the horizon, enormous, tasteful  homes being built in the sand, islands  in the distance, today it feels like they’re showing off just for us. We drive on, the water pacifies us, we delight in the beauty surrounding us; no billboards, strip malls, gas stations, traffic jams, is this heaven?

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We have time for one more stop, Bonobo Winery  has a different feel to it. It’s  more of a contemporary-rustic style with an elegant flair. Bonobo offers tastings, wine by the glass and small plates curated by Mario Batalli; here you are encouraged to linger, hang out for the afternoon. The winery is owned by Traverse City natives and brothers Todd and Carter Oosterhouse. If the name sounds familiar to you, you may have seen Carter as one of the resident carpenters on HGTV’s Trading Spaces, yes, that guy. The decor actually looks like it could be on HGTV, little sitting areas, lots of unique and vintage items carefully placed throughout the space. Grapes are estate grown and wine is produced on-site. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling; we’re here for the wine. I order a glass of the recommended white and join Kris on the deck.  We sip slowly taking in the panoramic view, it really is breathtaking. 

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As hard as it is to drag ourselves away from all of this we still have a drive ahead of us. We’re able to catch the sunset in Charlevoix, gorgeous! Now on to Petoskey…

UP NORTH: Old Mission Peninsula, can’t we just stay ……

25 Aug

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 We arose to the peace and quiet of the country, out the back window the cows were already grazing. After a quick breakfast ourselves, we were out the door; we had a full day ahead. Between the place we were staying and the place we were going, is a historic Traverse City landmark now known as The Village At Grand Traverse Commons. One of the largest historic preservation and mixed-use projects in the nation, it took a former mental health facility and turned it into a unique place to shop, eat and live; both cool and creepy at the same time. The size of the complex is daunting; Victorian-Italianate structures are expansive in size and number.We had very little time to investigate; we parked the car and did a quick walk through of one of the buildings, it’s remarkable what they have done. Once abandoned property is now home to thriving restaurants and bakeries, artists sell their creations in individual galleries, entrepreneurs give their dream business a go, it’s all very grass-roots. We passed a coffee shop and winery in one building, a cheesecake shop in another, there’s so much to see; it will have to wait until our next visit, the big lake was calling……..

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Narrowly situated between the east and west arms of Grand Traverse Bay is Old Mission Peninsula (sigh). I think of it as Michigan’s own little piece of paradise. As opposed to using Center Rd (37) take the lesser traveled routes like Peninsula Drive, Smokey Hollow Road and Bluff Rd, they offer spectacular views; for much of the drive the sparkling turquoise water of Lake Michigan is in sight. Lush vineyards heavy with grapes grow on slopes of land as far as the eye can see; apple orchards are getting ready for their big show in the fall, roadside stands offer ripe peaches and “washed” cherries. Fertile farmland is home to tall stalks of corn, ripening tomatoes and lovely red barns sitting in fields. Plots of land are filled with hundreds of leafy green hops climbing up support wires, cherry trees are hoping for better luck next season. From the road we see an amazing array of homes; a tall, narrow, glass house in contemporary design sits right at the shoreline, long modern ranches are terraced into the bluffs, perched way up high grand homes get a panoramic view of both bays. There are no traffic lights, fast food restaurants, gas stations or billboards; a welcome change from city life. A seasonal road invites us to take a ride through the dense woods, two dirt tracks lead the way. Before long, large rocks make it impossible to continue, we park and walk the rest of the way. The terrain of course, is deep sand, bits of sticks poke out so we keep our shoes on, we emerge from the cool shade of the woods into the heat and sun on the beach. The lake is magnificent; the color varies from the clear sandy shore to the azure of the deep water, it is breathtaking. There is not another soul in either direction, the scene is ours for the keeping. Gentle waves lap the shoreline, the air is still, I find a rock to use as a chair as Kris tries to capture the serenity of the setting in photos.

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You may have heard that Michiganders know a thing or two about making wine; seven wineries call Old Mission Peninsula home, giving us the opportunity to see for ourselves what all the buzz is about. Our first stop is Bowers Harbor Vineyards, I love the drive to the parking area; it gives you a up-close look at the vines. Inside our senses are awakened with the aroma of wine; visitors mill about selecting bottles from racks, we head to the bar to indulge in a tasting. We go down the list from dry to sweet, enjoying every pour, making note of the ones we like best, conversation flows easily, you can’t help but enjoy the experience. We carefully place our purchase in the Jeep and make the drive to 2 Lads. Positioned high on a bluff, the building’s design is purely contemporary, the wall behind the tasting bar is all glass, offering an incredible overlook of land and lake. Not usually white wine drinkers, we find the Michigan whites irresistible; we carefully place our bottles besides the others in the Jeep.

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When we are on the peninsula we make it a point to pick up lunch at the Old Mission General Store in Old Mission. Put the store on your list of places to visit; built in the mid 1800’s it has always been a trading post of sorts. Pass through the doorway and back in time; if the owner is there be sure and say hello, if you’re lucky he’ll tell you a few stories. The interior is a hodge podge of things old and new; a black pot-bellied stove sits front and center, antique lanterns and signs hang from the rafters, the wood plank floor creeks as shoppers wander around. Wooden barrels contain ginger snaps, and dill pickles, old-fashioned glass jars tempt with red and black licorice, Moomers ice cream is being scooped onto cones. We head over to the prepared food counter, we order their awesome Italian sandwich and pick up a few sides. With cold root beer from the cooler and a handful of napkins we have all the fixings for a picnic on the beach. Haserot beach is just down the road; picnic tables reside in the sand facing the east arm; kayaks, swimmers and boats all compete for space off shore. We unpack our brown paper bag of delicious edibles and devour our lunch.  There are still five more wineries to visit…..

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Old Mission Peninsula is located at the globe’s 45th parallel; an ideal wine growing region which also includes the Bordeaux region of France and the Piedmont and Lombardy region of Italy. Grapes grown here consist of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Riesling and more; the local ice wine is excellent. Next on our list was Chateau Chantal; high atop a ridge, it offers the most exquisite view. After our tastings we take a stroll on the patio; both east and west bays can be seen from this vantage point, the land between green with vineyards and orchards, breathtaking. We drop by Brys Estate and Chateau Grand Traverse; the tasting room of each unique, we always find something we like. Peninsula Cellars is a converted one room schoolhouse built around 1896; with the original windows, floor, slate boards and bell still in place it has a great atmosphere. The staff that does the pouring is super friendly and knowledgeable, this was the place we liked the most wines; as a matter of fact, we needed a box to get our selections to the car! At the southern end of the peninsula is Black Star Farms, we make our way to the tasting bar which is made from wine barrels, of course! We sample wine, eat crackers and have nice conversation, not a bad way to spend a day right? I like walking around the ‘showrooms’, as I call them; each winery has its own personality, wine bottles are displayed with award-winning ribbons, some offer fruit and cheese to go, chocolate is always available. The vines themselves are lovely; tight clusters of grapes hang gracefully waiting for the harvest, it is all so picturesque. 

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After resting at the condo we drive to downtown Traverse City for dinner; it’s a perfect evening to be outside, the film festival has come to an end, people are out on the sidewalks in great numbers. Again eateries are staying open late to accommodate the influx of tourists; we are hoping for an open table at Poppycock’s. When we arrived there was a short wait, at 10pm the place was still buzzing with patrons. We were famished, so we swiftly made our selections. The Front Street salad comes with chunks of cherry jalapeno glazed chicken breast and a lemon cherry vinaigrette, quite good. The cherry almond salmon is also a tasty dish; almond crusted salmon is served over a bed of orzo and a side of grilled asparagus, yum.  After dinner we spent some time just walking around, the later it got the quieter the town became; at some point we were two of the very few people left on the streets. Each night as we drive back to the condo we are treated to a star-studded sky, tonight’s was extraordinary. As we drove along the now familiar Cedar Run Rd it hit me that this was our last night here, but I am content, I know that when I leave I will be taking with me the unforgettable experience that is “up north”.

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UP NORTH: M-22, The Leelanau Peninsula

14 Aug

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We’ve been trying to get up here for what seems like ages; the proverbial “Up North” getaway, something always seemed to get in the way. Michigan has a plethora of fantastic, beautiful scenery, but to us, the northwest corner is king. Like all of our trips, we cram a lot into a little time; today we’ll show you some of our M-22 favorites. We leave the metro area via M-15, then hop onto M-115 via US10. While certainly not unpleasant, the scenery along the way looks like much of Michigan; then we make our way to the tiny hamlet of Beulah and catch our first glimpse of the perfectly aqua water of Crystal Lake; we have officially arrived.It was already time for lunch when we first set eyes on this gorgeous inland lake; we stopped in Beulah, grabbed a carry-out from L’chayim Deli, and took it to a table lake side to eat. The village does a great job allowing the public access to the lake with its pavilion, small beach and seating areas. With a perfect view of the water, we dug into our sandwiches; the Jerusalem: artichoke hearts, black pepper feta spread, red onion, lettuce and tomato on a salt bagel, and the Oy Vai: Corned beef, pastrami, cream cheese, pepper jack, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and Dijon mustard on multi-grain bread; both were delicious.


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Onward we went; we continued our tour of Crystal Lake driving the perimeter, then on to Frankfort, across Betsie Lake and on to Elberta. Perched on the side of a sand dune is a small gallery/coffee shop called Trick Dog. What a cool place! The building itself is adorned with funky details, the large front porch overlooks the serene Betsie Bay, large sculptures on the grounds encourage smiles. The gallery itself is filled with unique art work, it also sells an interesting array of housewares, dog accessories, jewelry and T-shirts. The espresso bar offers a variety of beverages along with baked goods, yum! We enjoyed our coffee break, stopping briefly for a panoramic view of Lake Michigan, and pointed the Jeep northIt would be impossible to tell you about every charming town and spectacular view we had the pleasure of experiencing on our trip, so I will try to narrow it down to highlights and favorites; then you will have to make the trip and see for yourself what an amazing place this is! 

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The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been swarmed with visitors since being voted America’s Most Beautiful Place by Good Morning America, with good reason, it’s absolutely stunning. Our favorite way to see it? Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. At just over seven miles long this narrow road leads you through the forest and dunes; scenic turnouts provide spectacular vistas of Glen Lake and of course,  Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes. The Lake Michigan overlook is 450 feet above the lake itself; the beach below  a resting spot for those about to embark on the steep climb to the top. Anchored near shore are boats of all sizes, their passengers cooling off with a late afternoon dip. As Kris wanders about taking photos I make myself at home atop the dune; the sand has absorbed the heat of the sun, increasing my body temperature. As I gaze outward the lake seems to go on into eternity; what do you call that color of blue? It’s quiet here, even though the dune is littered with people, I watch the progress of the climbers as family and friends cheer them upward. Kris got my attention, we moved on to the deck that  hangs out over the dune; probably the most popular place to take pictures. It is easy to detect the changes in depth here by the varying shades of blues. There is no end to the comings and goings of tourists.

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We still had much to do before day’s end, Glen Arbor was our next destination. As somebody who likes getting somewhere as much as being there, M-22 is a dream drive for my husband; winding roads are smooth and even, traffic lights do not exist. Orchards, farms and tiny towns speck the vast open land, it is serene and picturesque. We arrived in Glen Arbor and drove straight toCherry Republic , with a motto of  “Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie”, what’s not to love? We started at the winery and tasted to our hearts content; after narrowing it down to two bottles we made our purchase and stepped next door to the Great Hall of The Republic. Here you will find a mind-blowing array of cherry products, I will not even attempt to list them, you can click on the link to their website and see for yourself. The store itself has shelf after shelf of items, generous samples abound; it’s a good thing they do not weigh you as you come in and as you leave, it could be embarrassing….The products are truly outstanding; made with the highest quality fruit, nuts and chocolate, they are second to none.

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With our sweet tooth satisfied and a stash of goodies to last us the next few days, it was back on M-22 and up the Leelanau Peninsula. We stopped briefly in Leland, took a quick walk through Fishtown and then drove out to the tip of the peninsula and Lighthouse Point. Again, the view is remarkable, the air feels fresh and clean in my lungs, my body feels relaxed, at ease. We walk the shoreline taking more photos of water, the sight never becomes tiresome. Folks have begun stacking rocks, creating towers of all shapes and sizes. We notice the sun is getting lower, our cue to head back down the peninsula, this time following the east shoreline.

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Northport has grown since our last visit; a quick stop at the quaint Kamp Grounds Coffee and Creamery provided us a much-needed beverage. Omena, Peshawbestown and Suttons Bay are all enchanting little villages, darling shops and cafes call to us, but the clock and water views keep pulling us onward. Next visit we will dedicate an entire day to this lovely peninsula, its towns and wineries. For us it is time to head into Traverse City and get some dinner! When we arrived in the city is was after 9pm and the town was packed; the Traverse City Film Festival was in full swing. For an instant panic set in, would the restaurants be lined up out the door? Only one way to find out….Last time we were in town we ate at a little place on Union called Soul Hole, described as eclectic southern cuisine, the food was excellent; we were hoping to get dinner there tonight. We lucked out with a parking place right in front of the door and no line to be seated, whew! With a quick glance at the menu we placed our order and sat back in our booth, we had been on the go since early morning. Without much delay plates of food arrived at the table; fried green tomatoes, crispy outside, juicy inside with a spicy creole dipping sauce. The house salad was served with a sweet corn vinaigrette, very tasty and then there’s the southern fried chicken…fried to a perfect golden brown, tender and well seasoned it is out of this world; the cornbread and grits were pretty awesome too! When our meal was finished the day had finally settled down upon us, we were in need of a comfy bed and a good night sleep. Fortunately for us it was just a short drive to the place we would call home for the next few days; a condo on loan from dear and generous friends.

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